The FBI has been lying about its failures to prevent the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to newly revealed documents.
The bureau's director Christopher Wray told Congress last summer that investigators had circulated intelligence materials and other resources ahead of the U.S. Capitol riot but was limited in gathering evidence from social media, but Rolling Stone obtained documents showing the FBI had broadly tracked social media platforms.
"The new documents suggest the agency has all the authority it needs to monitor the social-media platforms in the name of public safety," the publication reported, "and, in fact, the bureau had done just that during the nationwide wave of racial justice protests in 2020. Critics of the FBI say that the bureau’s desire for more authority and surveillance tools is part of a decades-long expansion of the vast security apparatus inside the federal government."
Teams of employees engaged in “social-media exploitation,” or SOMEX, gathering data from platforms and distributing that information to law enforcement, and legal experts said the documents show how much latitude the bureau has to hunt through social media without needing the additional authority Wray told lawmakers the bureau needed.
“I think it has more authority than it needs frankly,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “What we’ve seen basically is that the FBI did not take this [Jan. 6] threat as seriously as they should have.”
Patrick Eddington, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former CIA officer, said the documents show how widely information on protesters was shared within the bureau and how focused the FBI was on possible threats to police officers, and he said Wray's testimony contradicted the bureau's existing guidelines for tracking social media content.
“If your flavor of the week is right-wing extremism, they can track it,” Eddington said. “If it’s left-wing extremism, they can track it.”
The documents were originally obtained by Property of the People, a government-transparency nonprofit group, whose executive director said the evidence proved two things about the bureau.
“The documents bring into relief three consistent truths about the FBI,” said Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People. “One: At its core, the FBI is a political police force that primarily targets the left while ignoring or outright enabling the far-right. Two: FBI spokespersons lie like they breathe. Three: The bureau shamelessly exploits national crises to expand the already dystopian reach of its surveillance.”